The World Health Organisation declaring the coronavirus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern raises serious concerns about impact will this have on Mobile World Congress.

The annual telecoms bonanza is set to begin in just under three weeks’ time, and while the GSMA might be making the right noises currently, there is concern among attendees and exhibitors. LG is the first company to make a meaningful splash in the MWC waters, deciding to pull out of the event completely.

“With the safety of its employees, partners and customers foremost in mind, LG has decided to withdraw from exhibiting and participating in MWC 2020 later this month in Barcelona, Spain,” LG said in a statement. “This decision removes the risk of exposing hundreds of LG employees to international travel which has already become more restrictive as the virus continues to spread across borders.”

As an alternative, LG will host a number of different smaller events across the world to meet with customers and partners, as well as showcasing the different technologies it has been developing.

This is the challenge which the GSMA faces currently; with c.5-10% of total attendees originating from China and at least 250 exhibitors coming from the country also, questions about safety will be asked.

“The GSMA confirms that there is minimal impact on the event thus far,” the GSMA said in a statement. “MWC Barcelona 24-27 February 2020, will proceed as planned, across all venues at Fira Gran Via Fira Montjuïc and La Farga L’Hospitalet, including YoMo and Four Years From Now (4YFN).”

Measures have been put in place, including:

  • Increased cleaning and disinfection programme
  • Increased onsite medical support
  • Availability of sanitising and disinfection materials for public use
  • Awareness training
  • Advice to exhibitors on implementing effective cleaning and disinfection of stands
  • Installation of new signage regarding hygiene
  • Communicating advice to all attendees to adopt a ‘no-handshake policy’

Outside of the GSMA, ZTE has also decided to make its position known. It will maintain a presence at the show, though it has put several procedures in place to minimise any risk.

Any employees from mainland China will have to exhibit no symptoms two weeks before departure and arrival in the MWC, and also remain in self-isolation during this period. Executives will self-isolate in Europe for the two weeks leading up to the show. ZTE will also ensure booth presentation staff are all from countries outside China, and mainly from Europe.

Other major Chinese companies, including Huawei, are yet to comment.

It remains to be seen how much of an impact the outbreak will have on MWC Barcelona, but a bigger headache might be the MWC Shanghai event in late June.

At the 2019 event, 500 exhibitors and 75,000 industry professionals attended the conference. 50% of the exhibitors were from outside China, and while 23% of the attendees were international. More than 100 countries were represented at the 2019 event.

While some might be nervous about attending MWC Barcelona during the outbreak, we suspect there will be a lot more people in aggressive opposition to travelling to China unless the Coronavirus has been dealt with.


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